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Most pet owners will agree that their pet makes a positive difference to their lives. It makes sense - there are 27 million pets in the UK, and we wouldn't make the effort to feed, exercise and clean up after them all if we didn't get pleasure from them too! But it's likely that many pet owners don't realise why a pet is such a positive influence - not many people realise that owning a pet can actually help you have a healthier life. We're not just talking about guide dogs, or other specifically trained animals. No, we're talking about how your average cat, dog or hamster can make a huge difference to your health, making your physically and mentally healthier - and happier too! Read on to discover just how your pet is making you into a healthier, happier version of yourself.
Doctors recommend that we spend at least thirty minutes of each day doing something active. In truth, however, many of us fail to reach that thirty minute target each day. But for the dog owners amongst us, there's a much greater chance of meeting it - because your dog needs the exercise too! The brisk walk each day with your dog ('brisk' because, let's face it, an excited dog is rarely satisfied with a slow amble...) is enough to elevate your heart rate and satisfy your doctor's recommendations. But dogs aren't the only animals that help to keep us active. You might be exercising your horse, chasing around the living room after your kitten, or even playing with your guinea pig - all of these will help keep your body active and healthy. And exercising your animals can provide other benefits, too. As surprising as it may be, Disney's 101 Dalmatians was based - in part - on a real pet truth. In the film, love and friendship blossomed between two dog owners who met each other whilst out walking their dogs. Now, we're not suggesting that everyone will find love whilst out with their pooch, but owning (and walking!) your dog really can make a difference to your social life. Dog owners are creatures of habit, and tend to walk the same route each day - which means you tend to see the same faces each day too. And just a smile or a cheery 'hello!' during this daily contact can build a sense of community between you - a sense of community which, especially in today's world where we tend not to know our neighbours, can make a big, positive difference to our mental health.
Dogs -as the RSPCA reminds us - are for life, and that applies to all other pets too. Pets, therefore, provide a long term companion for their owners - a companion that is always loyal, always loving, and always (providing you bring food!) pleased to see you. That, in itself, is enough to make a positive difference to your life. But there's more: a pet requires thought and frequent care, and common sense tells us that if you're taking the time to care for your pet, you're more likely to care for yourself too. For some people, a pet will bring routine and structure into their life - which, again, can make a hugely positive difference to their daily life, and to their mental health. As humans, we have a basic need - a need for touch. We are tactile creatures, and a pet - any pet that we can hold, stroke or cuddle - help to fulfil that basic human need. This is especially true for people who live alone; perhaps this is why 60% of single people in the UK buy themselves a pet for companionship reasons. Stroking and cuddling our pets can help to calm us down after a busy day, or distract us during a stressful period at work.
As far as our children's health is concerned, pets are a very good thing. First of all, owning a pet can reduce your child's risk of getting allergies and asthma. For their physical health, therefore, a pet can bring huge benefits to your child. But pets are also good for your child's mental health. Many parents will note that children see their pet as something to confide in - a loving, trustworthy ear in which to whisper their worries and concerns. As adults, we know that talking about our problems often eases them - a problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes. But children and teenagers often don't realise this - and, even if they do, they are often worried about talking honestly and openly to the adults in their lives for fear of being told off. A pet, on the other hand, is the perfect recipient of their fears and concerns. In confiding in their pet, your child will have their burden lifted - so, once again, we see why pets can be so beneficial to your child's health. Many of these points are logical, or fairly easy to make sense of. But pets can also bring benefits which scientists can't, as yet, explain. According to studies, owning a pet can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can help prevent the risk of heart attacks as well. These studies are in their infancy - further work needs to be done to understand just why pets can make such a difference to these aspects of your health. But who knows - in a few years' time, doctors might be prescribing pet ownership to their patients! In the meantime, next time you are finding it hard to summon up the energy that cleaning your hamsters cage/walking your dog/cleaning out the litter tray requires, remember the difference that your pet is making to your physical and mental health - it'll be all the incentive your need to make that little extra effort!
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